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The Cutting Edge: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : TRW Tells of Plans for Satellite Phone System

November 16, 1994|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

TRW Inc. on Thursday announced plans to build and operate a $2-billion satellite telephone system in partnership with Teleglobe Inc. of Canada.

Scheduled to begin operation in 1999, the 12-satellite system, known as Odyssey, will provide voice, fax and paging services and will enable a person using a pocket telephone to call anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world.

But the two companies face a host of technical, legal and competitive obstacles in building the Odyssey system. Several other well-funded satellite telephone systems are already in the works, including Iridium, led by Motorola Inc.; Globalstar, headed up by Loral Corp., and Teledisic, a $9-billion, 840-satellite system backed by entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Craig McCaw.

The companies said the venture will be established as a limited partnership, with TRW and Teleglobe serving as founding general partners and jointly managing the project. The two companies will put up 15% of the funding for the venture, with the balance to come from additional partners, equipment vendors, and loans.

Odyssey backers say their project should be less costly and less complex than its rivals, substantially reducing calling charges for users. TRW has applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a license to operate the Odyssey system. FCC licenses are expected to be awarded in early 1995.

Cleveland-based TRW is a leading satellite maker and also sells a range of automotive and defense equipment as well as credit services. Teleglobe is Canada's international communications carrier.

The various satellite telephone proposals each use different technology, but all of them aim to tap a potentially huge market among people in the developing world who have little access to traditional phones, and among mobile professionals in industrialized countries who need flexible wireless services.

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